Leadership in the face of the storm


Many DOE schools are designated shelters for communities during disasters such as the recent hurricane strike of Hawaii Island. A look at how administrators organize and lead their school communities through these efforts, and a special shout-out to the staff who went above and beyond the call of duty last week.

​​​​​​Hawaii's public schools are considered the hearts of their communities. This is especially true during times of crises and emergencies.

On Wednesday, Aug. 6, principals at public schools designated as emergency shelters sprang into action when it became apparent Hurricane Iselle was on track to hit the state. To make matters worse, Hurricane Julio was on its heels.

As images of the storm systems were shown across television, websites and social media, Hawaii residents prepared for the worst. So did our principals.

It’s a frenzied 24 to 48 hours before shelters open, with school administrators communicating with county civil defense and the American Red Cross, conferring with their teams on campus, mobilizing volunteers &mdash and all while still taking care of business at their schools.

On Hawaii Island, directly hit by Hurricane Iselle, Kea‘au High assisted more than 300 evacuees along with 25 animals in the designated pet area. Principal Dean Cevallos noted it was an extraordinarily busy time as they housed people from Thursday morning until late Saturday — and still opened the cafeteria Saturday for the Primary Election. KHS continues to assist students in the district who are without power and water by making the locker room showers available in the morning — including this Friday, a state holiday.

Cevallos praised the hard work of the custodial staff who came in on Sunday to clean the designated shelter areas to make them ready for student use, and the Red Cross which is helping to reimburse the school for supplies used during the storm.

Waiakea High’s administrators, teachers and staff displayed extraordinary unselfishness in leaving their own homes and braving the weather to house and protect nearly 400 members of the public in the Warriors’ classrooms and gymnasium. 

“Working with a few Red Cross volunteers and a group of Department of Health public health nurses, Waiakea High’s shelter team manned areas throughout the campus ensuring the safety and welfare of the general public,” said Principal Kelcy Koga. “We are proud Warriors at WHS.”​

At Hilo’s other landmark high school, Hilo High Principal Robert Dircks says there was great teamwork and communication between the school, the Neighborhood Watch Program, Hawaii County Civil Defense and the Hawaii Red Cross. In all, the Home of the Vikings served as a shelter for more than 170 people, three dogs and two cats between August 7 and 9. 

On the Valley Isle, Baldwin High took in more than 115 people at its campus. "The school belongs to our community and so providing shelter is not just a duty but the right thing to do,” said Baldwin High Principal Catherine Kilborn. “I am grateful for the Red Cross personnel, who deserve the credit for providing personal care for the community."

On Oahu, Kaiser High School was the only Farrington-Kaiser-Kalani school to be activated as an emergency shelter on the evening of Thursday, Aug. 7. Principal Justin Mew reported between 60 and 70 evacuees showed up that evening. Members of the Kaiser High shelter team put in long hours to ensure everyone was safe, including Aaron Yoshino of the Kaiser media center, who stayed past 2 a.m., and Kaiser’s head custodian Al Garcia, who slept over at the school.

“It was a total team effort,” said Principal Mew who also slept over during the nights the school was an emergency shelter. “We had help from my fellow complex area principals, our PCNC​ — and our teachers were simply outstanding.”

Department leaders also pulled around-the-clock hours making sure that teams were informed.

“I really want to thank the Complex Area Superintendents, principals, teachers, and employees for pitching in at all levels to help their communities,” said Superintendent Matayoshi. “We were fortunate that the storms changed course, and spared our facilities from major damage. Our schools are much more than a place for our students to learn; they are places for our communities to gather. And our principals are much more than leaders of their schools, they are community leaders.”

The public schools that were designated shelters from August 7–10 were:

Hawaii County:

  • Laupahoehoe Public Charter School
  • Kohala High & Elementary
  • Kealakehe High
  • Konawaena High
  • Hilo High
  • Waiakea High
  • Keaau High
  • Pahoa High & Intermediate
  • Honokaa High & Intermediate
  • Kau High
  • Waikoloa Elementary

Maui County:

  • Baldwin High
  • Lokelani Intermediate
  • Kekaulike High
  • Hana High & Elementary
  • Molokai High
  • Kilohana Elementary
  • Lanai High & Elementary


  • Campbell High
  • Kaimuki High
  • Kaiser High
  • McKinley High
  • Castle High
  • Mililani High
  • Pearl City High
  • Waialua High & Intermediate
  • Nanakuli High & Middle


  • Hanalei Elementary
  • Kapaa High School
  • Kalaheo Elementary
  • Waimea High

Contact Information

Communications and Community Affairs Office

Phone: 808-586-3232

Email: doe_info@hawaiidoe.org


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